This unusual novel features identical twin sisters, inseparable as children, living in a small town in rural Louisiana. The town’s founder, a light skinned Black man, insisted on maintaining a certain character for the town–only light skinned Black people should live there. At sixteen the sisters run away to New Orleans where they ultimately choose diametrically opposed lives, one passing as white, marrying a wealthy white man who knows nothing of her true past. In spite of the deception and lies, years later their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. The novel not only addresses themes of race but also sexual identity and who we are as individuals and a country.
One Book a Week-7: “Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey
Published in 2020, and a must read for anyone who cares about abused women, their rights, and how law enforcement often fails them, this book by Trethewey, 2007 Pulitzer Poetry Price winner for “Native Guard”, voices her struggle to deal with her mother’s untimely death. When Trethewey was nineteen and in college, her mother was shot and killed by her step-father after the police officer assigned to protect her mother left his post early. Additionally, the memoir details the effects of the racism she experienced as the child of a white father and black mother (married when it was illegal where they lived) in Mississippi and later in Atlanta in the 1970s and 80s before her mother’s murder in 1985. The book gets its title from the street on which her mother lived when she was murdered. Through this memoir Trethewey discusses how her parent’s divorce, her mother’s remarriage to an angry, abusive man, and her mother’s murder has informed her life and affected the enduring love she holds for her mother.
Prophetic Passages from Octavia Butler
In my last blog post about reading, I promised to address the prophecies of Octavia Butler in my next post. The best way is to quote some passages from Parable of the Talents which was published in 1998. This book is the sequel to Parable of the Sowers. In that book the main character creates a new religion with CHANGE as a major focus. In fact, one of the main tenants of that religion forms the words on Octavia Butler’s tombstone which I quoted in an earlier post. Here are some passages from Parable of the Talents:
I couldn’t help wondering, though, whether these people with their crosses, had some connection with my current least favorite presidential candidate, Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarrett. It sounds like the sort of thing his people might do—a revival of some nasty out of the past….So now we have another group that uses crosses and slaughters people. Jarrett’s people could be behind it. He insists on being a throwback to some earlier ‘simpler’ time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. He wants to take us back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, worshipped Him in the same way, and understood that their safety in the universe depended on completing the same religious rituals and stomping anyone who is different.
Jarrett’s supporters have been known to burn people at the stake for being witches….a Moslem, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, or in some parts of the country, a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, or even a Catholic. A witch may also be an atheist or an eccentric…anyone who does not fit into Jarrett’s version of Christianity. He condemns the burnings but in very mild language.
He has a simple answer: ‘Join us! Our doors are open to every nationality, every race.! Leave your sinful past behind, and become one of us. Help us make American great again.”
Note: If you are interested in Octavia Butler books, the stack at the right bottom of the photo are mostly her books. Some are series and need to be read in a certain order.
Reading Octavia Butler-1
In a recent post I mentioned walking in her footsteps. This is the rainy season so we have not been able to go on that walk yet.. However, this morning I finished reading the last novel of hers that I had not read–Parable of the Talents. It is the sequel to Parable of the Sower. Now I have read all of them. She is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, CA, Eagles View Lot 4517. The inscription on her gravestone is the theme of both the books above:
All that you touch You Change.
All that you Change Changes you.
The only lasting truth is Change.
Octavia Butler’s Pasadena–Part One
As part of a bookclub I co-host, we read Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred, a science fiction story which takes places in California and in the Old South. Since many of the bookclub members live in or near Pasadena, we decided we would do “Experience Butler’s Pasadena on Foot”, a walking loop of about 2.5 miles. We had planned to take the walk earlier in December but were rained out. We will reschedule early next year. I decided to do a dry run in November and took these photos along one of the streets where she often walked.
Butler lived most of her life in Pasadena but never owned a car. She either walked or took public transportation.
For those unfamiliar with her, she became famous as the first African American to win multiple Hugo and other science fiction awards. Born in 1947, she died in 2006, and is buried in a cemetery in Altadena, CA, just north of Pasadena. Many of her manuscripts are on display at The Huntington Library.
The last Octavia Butler book I read is the one illustrated in this photo taken at The Huntington Library. I am currently reading the sequel, Parable of the Talents. When I finish that one, I will have read all of her novels. She is one of my favorite authors.
Reflections on Independence Day
When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually. On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun. Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message. Still do.
Now I live where it is hot and dry. The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country. I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.
For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day. Why?
Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred. Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.
Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited. It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago. People need to learn from the history most do not even know:
-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal. What did he do to deserve this? He tried to save his Native people. Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.
-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks. They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.
-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading. He refused to believe any African could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this. Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”
-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.
The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country. It continues to poison progress and hope. It never seems to end. I am tired of it. Enough is enough.
Whitney Plantation Visit
Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans. A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday. It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry, and the outside kitchen.
A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s. At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo. After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today. Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.
Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor. In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana. Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased. Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea. After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil. The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding. Women and men were forced to breed. Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock. One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.
After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church. Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.
The artist created these statues from specific information about the children. The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value. This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.
From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves. Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.
The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.
Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.
Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush. This is one of several pools at the plantation.
These containers cooked the sugar cane. Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers. This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana. The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp. Many people were severely injured. The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.
Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms. Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground. No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.
This building housed the foundry. Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food. When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop. The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.
The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees. Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.
Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding. Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there. Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.
Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.
The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.
A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed. It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here. Tours are available as well.
Currently: Eagerly Anticipating #Akefest16 in Abeokuta
For those who want to explore movies, musicians, and writers many of you may never have heard of, here is a lengthy list with photos.
It’s 1pm and I’m planning my trip to Abeokuta – I leave on Wednesday. Yessss, the 2016 edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival is loading…. I’m so excited, I have butterflies, the pit of my stomach is always warm because
That is me up there, scheduled to host a book chat with NoViolet Bulawayo and Jennifer Makumbi! Ms. Makumbi is the author of Kintu, which qualifies as the most recent addition to my all time list of favorite African fiction ever. I’m so stoked.😆😆😆.
I will also moderate this:
Laila Lalami, fellow book lovers!
Finally, I’m also on this:
#AkeFest16 comprises 12 panel discussions, including:
(I get to meet Sarah Ladipo Manyika (InDependence) finally…
9 Book chats such as:
Also on the schedule are film screenings, a play and a concert:
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will headline. In boxing parlance, he is the…
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I Have a Dream
Fifth-three years ago today Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most inspiring and telling speeches ever given by a person from this country. Today I listened to a young man, Patrick Miller, a middle school teacher here in Amarillo, give this same speech totally from memory with no notes. I feel saddened at the extent to which King’s speech still rings true, that although we have progressed tremendously, people of African descent and others of color still experience prejudice at so many levels in their lives, frequently on a daily basis.
Here I offer other quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, “What are you doing for others?”
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
Dealing with Despair by Carol P. Christ
This blog post also notes that cities and small towns use traffic tickets for minor violations to fund their governments. Immediately, I thought of a tiny town on the highway from Amarillo to Dallas that rakes in huge amounts of money this way. Then this morning I just read of another incident where police killed a black man who, instead of having a gun as police claimed, had his hands up in the air–from a surveillance camera nearby. The police officers in question had on body cameras–that footage has not yet been released. I am quite sure we will hear more about that one even if it has not been on the national news yet.
Philando Castile, school cafeteria worker, killed driving while black
In a state of shock after the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I turned to my Facebook feed, looking for community in my grief and hoping to make sense of what had happened. The statement, “He would not have been shot if he had been white,” referring to Philando Castile, appeared several times. The first time I saw it, I responded, “He would not even have been stopped if he had been white.” Think about it if you are white: how many times have you been pulled over by the police?
I can answer that question: in the United States, only once, and that was because I made a second illegal U-turn at the same stop-lighted intersection as a teenager. The policeman issued me two tickets, stating that he had been willing to let the first offence go…
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